The Islamic State (IS) continues to flex its muscles in a series of terrorist attacks of unprecedented scale and callousness. In some countries, regrettably, the end of Ramadan symbolised deep mourning with IS attacks. In Syria and Iraq, the group’s leaders are bracing for its strongholds to fall, but vow to continue its wave of terror attacks abroad.
The terrorists are attempting to retaliate for losing 47 per cent of ground territory in Iraq and 20 per cent in Syria by unleashing a global war by seeking more support around the world.
With Russian air support, the Syrian military has made steady progress in defeating the IS strongholds in northern Syria and Aleppo, moving onto IS de facto capital of Raqqa. Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with help from Iran, have made strides beating back terrorists in Fallujah and in Mosul.
IS leaders have been killed by coalition airstrikes and growing numbers of IS defectors have fled the war zones. The recent terrorist killing of 250 Iraqi citizens is a desperate and direct vengeance for those battlefield losses.
Meanwhile in Libya, forces loyal to the UN-appointed government of National Accord have severely reduced the militant group’s enclave around the city of Sirte. Government forces are now inside Sirte itself, with IS fighters remaining in just three parts of the city.
As the terrorists affiliated with IS start to move underground both inside and outside Iraq and Syria, the group has become more dangerous abroad, especially and paradoxically, in mostly Muslim countries. One analyst claimed: “The group has all the energy and unpredictability of a populist movement.”
The militant group took credit for the alleged lone jihadist gunman, an Afghan American who perpetrated America’s deadliest mass shooting in history and worst terrorism on US soil since 9/11 on June 12, in Orlando, Florida. The gunman killed 49 and wounded 53.
The spread of IS outside the crisis zone has not spared Malaysia and its neighbours. A militant launched a grenade attack on June 28, injuring eight patrons watching a football match at a nightclub in Puchong, Kuala Lumpur, marking the first known IS attack in Malaysia. The attack was carried out on the orders of a Malaysian IS fighter in Syria, Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi. The attack silenced many political analysts that Malaysia, a progressive, moderate, multiracial yet Muslim country, was immune to such calamity.
The slaughter of 20 people in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and the deadly attacks at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Baghdad’s Karrada shopping district, and in Saudi Arabia signs that while IS’s reign in Iraq and Syria is collapsing, it is still volatile and versatile enough to continue generating fear of its influence.
And indeed, whilst many including fellow Muslims who condemn IS were unobtrusively relieved that the IS problem was mainly a “faraway problem”, a weaker IS has now led to a direct, more “homegrown” impact closer to home.
As IS continues to launch or support waves of terrorist attacks around the globe, IS’s leaders are quietly preparing its followers for the eventual collapse of the caliphate they proclaimed with great fanfare two years ago.
As a result, the group has shifted some of its command, media and wealth structure to different countries. Its military setbacks in Iraq and Syria have forced a change in strategy.
While the loss of a physical sanctuary would constitute a major blow to the IS, severely limiting its ability to raise money, train recruits or plan complex terrorist operations, the group’s highly decentralised nature ensures that it will remain dangerous for some time to come.
As an IS operative said: “There is a message to all members of the coalition against us: We will not forget, and we will come into your countries and hit you, one way or the other.”
The allied forces that are responsible for this are admitting the serious riposte to their effective air strikes. European intelligence officials have expressed fear that the new phase of IS strategy is already deep underway. A senior French security official is convinced that the group would now expand to other tactics and start executing much more insidious and covert operations in big cities.
Ramadan is over, but the group continues to be “not over”. Its militants continue to inflict fear and terror into people. This means that politicians, such as Donald Trump, could not only use this as a political card, but somewhat turn the “fear” prophecy into an “actual” threat.
The rise of international IS also defiantly demonstrates that regardless of how advanced or sophisticated international counter-terrorism measures may be, no national state authority can adequately defend its own citizens, Muslims or non-Muslims alike.
Dr Paridah Abd Samad is a former lecturer at UiTM and International Islamic University Malaysia (UIA), Malaysia